By Midge Pierce
Climatologists, foresters and other experts – one of whom calls the recent Gorge conflagration “a postcard from the future” – have advice for Portlanders anxious to help restore fire-ravaged forests:
Be pro-active in your own neighborhoods to save local yard and street trees, mitigate fossil fuel use and lobby for better air quality.
As ash, smoke and despair fell on Portland, Gorge National Scenic Area spokesperson Rachel Pawlitz urged patience until the area is deemed safe to enter. The human-caused fires compounded by weather patterns that broke records have resulted in unstable soils, falling debris and loss of the massive walls of moss that held rocks together.
“Understand that it will be quite a while before even trained volunteers can dive in,” she said. “Potential landslides make this a dangerous situation, still.”
In the interim, City Forester Jenn Cairo urged Portlanders to appreciate and care for the large trees in their own neighborhoods that provide a cooling canopy, clean pollutants from the air we breathe and protect against damaging heat islands.
“If the fires have pulled at your heartstrings,” she urged, “act on what you can by preventing the removal of healthy trees in neighborhoods.”
She called for pro-active maintenance, assessment and pruning of existing trees. “Keep what you have healthy. We are fortunate to have big trees that give back big services.”
Trees are a first defense against global warming. They mitigate summer heat islands by 2 to 4 degrees, reduce the need for AC in summer and buffet temperature spikes caused by winter winds, according to Cairo.
They also offer flood control, provide wildlife habitat, link communities, and help the healing process of those who are ill. For property owners, trees can increase home and land values by as much as 10 percent.
Those who don’t have trees are urged “to plant the right tree in the right place”. Even developers can redesign a building or road to avoid tree removal, Cairo explained. If a tree is targeted to be felled in your neighborhood, make sure permits have been pulled.
The fallout from 2017 is a grim reminder of the physical and psychological toll of tree loss. Tim Lynch of the city-county Climate Action Plan fears 2017 may only be the beginning of future infernos.
He told the Richmond Neighborhood Association: “Impacts we thought we’d see in 20 years, we’re seeing now.” He indicated that hotter, dryer summers will be followed by more intense weather patterns that bring the same amount of rain in shorter downpours.
The urban/forest wildfire interface is one of many challenges being addressed in the climate plan that includes 171 action items such as reducing reliance on coal, cars and high traffic corridors.
Lynch cited diesel particulate from unregulated, older trucks and equipment as a key contributor to poor air quality.
Richmond residents upset by the newly approved state Transportation Plan to widen I-5 through the Rose Corridor were encouraged to lobby Salem with their concerns.
Lynch called road widening “induced demand” that does nothing to deter traffic or reduce traffic jams. “Build it and they will come,” he lamented, expressing particular dismay over efforts by a Washington state lawmaker to block tolls on roads they utilize.
He called on residents to look at the problem through a justice and equity lens. Those with the lowest incomes who drive the least may be impacted the most by treeless, high transit heat islands, he explained.
On the positive side of the climate equation, Lynch expressed optimism that the City would meet its commitment for electricity to come from 100% renewables by 2050.
“The good news is that we’re on a great trajectory.” Electricity use per person is 21% below 1990 levels. With the population influx, however, overall usage is likely to mount.
As the discussion went in myriad directions from the value of preserving the energy embedded in existing buildings to the location of new construction, the Richmond NA indicated it would request additional presentations on specific aspects of climate change.
For Gorge Volunteer Restoration information, go to bit.ly/2xts4Ct .